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America's Newest 'War Canoe'
by Joseph J. Buff, [IMAGE]2006


Photo Courtesy: Walter P. Noonan
[IMAGE] On Saturday, 17 June 2006, my wife Sheila and I were privileged to join the huge crowd at the christening of the third revolutionary Virginia-class fast attack submarine, USS Hawaii, (SSN-776). This historic event took place at General Dynamics Electric Boat's shipyard in Groton, just south of the New London Naval Submarine Base.

The christening had a very “Hawaiian” feel from the moment we arrived. Just past security, all guests were handed leis. Ours were orange plastic, but the ship's crew and their families wore really beautiful ones made of white and purple orchids. The center of attention, the Hawaii herself, sat in a flooded dry-dock, decorated from stem to stern with signal flags, a special platform erected behind her sail. A Navy band played rousing patriotic music for about half an hour, before the ceremony began at 1100. The weather was perfect; sunny with high, scattered clouds. A cool breeze wafted in from the Thames, just strong enough to stir all the flags large and small, and gave a lively movement to the festive red and white and blue bunting.

We knew this would be no ordinary christening when a tall figure dressed in traditional Hawaiian warrior robes climbed up to the quarterdeck platform and wordlessly sprinkled the sail with big palm fronds dipped into a dish of water. He withdrew, and the National Anthem played. The list of distinguished speakers included the presidents of Hawaii's co-builders, GDEB and Northrup Grumman Newport News, plus congressmen, admirals, and the Secretary of the Navy. The Hawaiian warrior appeared again. He was introduced now by Linda Lingle, Governor of Hawaii, as Master Sergeant Raymond Ganotise of the Hawaiian National Guard. He proceeded to conduct a emotionally moving bilingual and multi-faith Blessing of the Ship. Ganotise fluently recited or sang Hawaiian chants and hymns, annointing the ship again with his palm fronds and water. He repeated these same words in English translation, often calling Hawaii a “war canoe.” The audience sat and listened in rapt silence. The vessel's skipper and crew stood at proud attention atop her hull, their bright white uniforms contrasting with Hawaii's menacing black. After the Master Sergeant gave a further benediction in English, Governor Lingle stepped forward and smashed the bottle of champagne against the rear of Hawaii's sail. Wild applause broke out. Again, the Navy band played.

But beneath the celebratory feeling, everyone present knew Hawaii would soon go into harm's way. And one cursory glance proved she's a genuinely new type of submarine. With advanced photonic imagery masts, her sail is extremely far forward, greatly improving stability at shallow depth in hostile littorals. Instead of anechoic tiles, she wears one continuous coating, its formula secret, for much better stealth.(The transformational features Hawaii sports below the waterline, and the startling improvements inside her, are even more amazing.) Truly, America's newest “war canoe” and her men will capably help defend our country against all comers in the increasingly volatile 21st century.

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